Hundreds of GP practises threatened with closure as doctors quit 'in their droves'

The RCGP estimates that the profession needs 8,000 more GPs by 2020

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More than 500 GP practices in England could be forced to close within a year as family doctors leave the profession “in their droves”, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has warned.

GPs have been caught in a “deepening” workforce crisis, the RCGP said, with too few trainee doctors choosing to go into general practice, and too many senior GPs taking early retirement, moving abroad, or starting completely different careers.

The RCGP has identified 543 practices where either all or most of the working doctors are over the age of 60.

The average age for a GP to retire is 59, and with nearly one in 10 GP posts already unfilled, they predict that a new wave of retirements will mean that many of these practices will be unable to replace staff and will have to close.

Although similar data was not available across the UK, the RCGP estimated that nationally the figure could potentially rise to 600.

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, will tell colleagues at the college’s annual conference in Liverpool today, that any practice closed down would be “a loss to a local community”.

“Not only do patients lose out, but it piles more pressure on neighbouring practices, swelling patient lists already bursting at the seams,” she will say.

Demand for GP services is at an all-time high, with more than 90 per cent of the contacts between patients and the NHS taking place in a GP practice. However, family doctors currently receive only 8 per cent of NHS funding – an historic low.

The RCGP estimates that the profession needs 8,000 more GPs by 2020, which would swell the workforce to 40,100 in England.

Since 2010, the number of GP practices in England has fallen by around 500 to just under 8,000.

The RCGP said a “new deal” for GPs was needed, including special incentives for trainee doctors to work in more deprived areas, which are most likely to be “under-doctored”.

Dr Baker also said that “bureaucracy” which was standing in the way of qualified doctors returning to the profession should be scrapped.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We know GPs are under pressure, which is why we’re increasing trainees so that GP numbers continue to grow faster than the population and will train 10,000 more primary and community health and care staff by 2020, including 5000 more GPs.

"There are already 1000 more GPs than in 2010 and we’re making it easier for GPs to return to the profession.”